Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back. And Forward. To Beautiful Things in 2017.

Well, what a year it's been. These past 12 months have really delivered some one-two punches, and they took some fine people down with them. Such as A. A. Gill. And George Michael. And of course Muhammed Ali.

Just when we thought all was lost, however, hope floated in from some unexpected places. Writer Nikki Gemmell felt her year turn in December after she shed her clothes and took an impromptu nudie dip in the Sydney Harbour with friends. Inspired by her thoughtful, reflective column about the day, the dip, and indeed the year (which is here : The Australian newspaper), we decided to follow her salty initiative and spent a glorious week in and around Sydney harbour over Christmas (above). Like Nikki Gemmell, we felt the salt soak into our skin and remembered the joy in living simply.

Like Nikki Gemmell, many others were sanguine as the year came to an end. Even usually cynical A.A. Gill was uncharacteristically grateful in his final columns. "I feel very lucky", he said, about his life. I mean, how inspiring.

But perhaps my favourite spirit-lifting moment this year was Muhammad Ali's memorial service, which took humour and sadness and weaved them together into a magnificent lesson in how to live -- not a great life -- but a good one. Ali lived both. But it was goodness he advocated. It was goodness that filled that interfaith memorial service in Louisville, Kentucky on June 10th.

Here in our little household, 2016 was a full year. Work was relentless but rewarding, with work trips and garden shoots in the Caribbean, New York, Connecticut, Nantucket, Provence, Paris, Italy, and the Cotswolds and Dorset. Many of these beautiful places, spaces and gardens (above) can be seen on  my Instagram: But most of the time, I didn't post a lot: I just put my head down and got on with the job.

As well as work, there were quiet side trips and gentle stopovers, including a visit to Jim Thompson's house in Bangkok: a deeply moving place that's memorable as much for its architecture and garden as its history and mystery.

For the most part, we lived a low-key existence. As the years go on and people become angrier and more critical and the world becomes more unstable, it feels like the right path to take. Perhaps George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley had the smart approach, after all? Perhaps what 2016 taught us is that when the going gets tough, the tough put their heads and work on, head against the wind; quietly; calmly; with not only a sense of humour but a sense of dignity.

Here's to 2017. May it bring you all joyous things.



The major exhibition at London's V&A Museum during 2017 will focus on the life and work of Spanish fashion house Balenciaga, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year. Called 'Shaping Fashion', the show will shine the light on this master couturier, who is often called a 'designer's designer' because he was famous for his tailoring skills. He preferred to work with firm, stiff fabrics which gave his clothing a sculptural appearance, hence the name of the show. The V&A has brought together 100 garments and 20 hats, along with sketches, photographs and fabric samples to show not only his craftsmanship and skill but also how his work changed the shape of fashion forever. The exhibition is timely – under the new creative director of head designer Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has taken a radical new direction.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion will be on show at the V&A, London May 27th 2017 – February 18th 2018.


As the House of Dior continues its seventy-year celebrations, there are plans for two impressive Dior exhibitions in Paris and Melbourne this year.  Christian Dior at Musée des Arts Décoratifs  in Paris will run from July 6, 2017 until January 7, 2018, and will focus on the couturier's life and designs, while in Melbourne, Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria will host 'The House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture', a sumptuous display of more than 140 garments designed by Christian Dior Couture between 1947 and 2017. The latter exhibition will also feature works by the seven designers who have played key roles in shaping Dior’s renowned fashionable silhouette: Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. Highlights include examples from Christian Dior’s iconic spring 1947 New Look collection, magnificent displays of Dior’s signature ball gowns and evening dresses, as well as designs from the inaugural couture collection of the House’s first female head designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. It will be the first complete Dior collection to be shown outside of Paris, and reflects Melbourne's love of fashion and glamour.

Little news yet on the Christian Dior exhibition at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in July, but no doubt details will begin to emerge in the fashion media soon.

[All images from House of Dior's website]


Opening in spring 2017, 'The White Garden' will be a floral tribute to Princess Diana that will be planted in the Sunken Garden in Kensington Gardens. It has been designed to celebrate her legacy of style, which is also being showcased in Kensington Palace’s new fashion exhibition, ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ in 2017. The garden will be planted with an elegant palette of spring tulips and scented narcissi, which will emerge through a carpet of forget me nots. The planting scheme will then change in summer to pots of classic English white roses and cosmos, which will surround the reflective pool in the centre of the garden.

Due to open in April, 2017.


If you're a fan of the Restoration Hardware look, and there are thousands who are, you'll be pleased to know the company is opening its first hotel, in New York City’s meatpacking district. Located at 55 Gansevoort Street, which is right around the corner from RH's flagship store, it will reportedly double as a showroom for the brand. There are also plans for a ground-floor restaurant.

More details can be found here.


There are several garden-themed exhibitions being staged in Paris this year. From 15 March, the Jardins exhibition at the Grand Palais offers a sweeping overview of landscape painting from the Renaissance to our day, with works by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Magritte and others. The Musée d’Orsay is also hosting a nature-themed exhibition in 2017, with paintings by Gauguin, Denis, Klimt, Munch and Van Gogh. Until 24 April, the Pompidou Centre is hosting a retrospective of Cy Twombly, which will feature explosions of colour, tangled skeins and scribblings and scratched-out lines – all of which is said to "reflect a rich interior landscape". And in April, the Musée de la Vie Romantique will turn into an exquisite garden filled with lovely colours for an exhibition on Pierre-Joseph Redout, one of the most renowned botanical artist of all time. It’s an opportunity to admire the delicate watercolours painted by the man who was once described as ‘the Raphael of flowers’.


Dahlias were big this year. Huge. In every respect. They crowded the pages of garden magazines, and grew to the size of dinner platters.

This was the Dorset garden of English architect Ben Pentreath and his lovely husband Charlie, which I shot in late September, just as the dahlias beds were reaching their full height. Charlie told me his favourite was the Cafe au Lait, but I think I loved the apricot borders better.

One thing's for sure: dahlias are not going away any time soon. Once you see them dancing in the late summer breeze, you'll want to replant your own garden with blousy, cheery blooms.


One of the most delightful places I had the pleasure of visiting for work this year was Playa Grande, in the Dominican Republic. (Some of you may have already seen these images on Instagram.) Conceived by New York interior designer Celerie Kemble, it's an enclave of beach houses where almost everything is designed as a nod to Mother Nature. So the four-poster beds are filled with twisting vines, the  lights and lanterns look like palm trees, many of the prints are botanicals, and even the pool house lights look like tropical 'pods'. It's beautiful and memorable, and it's not surprising that it has inspired other hotels to incorporate more horticulture into their designs.

Another 'garden-enhanced hotel' that I visited this year was the newly renovated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, where the Ambassador Suite (above right) even comes with its own private conservatory overlooking the gardens and river. If you can't afford a suite here, you can still enjoy the hotel's legendary interiors with a drink or afternoon tea in the Author's Lounge (above left), one of the most photogenic bars in the world. Designed with more lattice trims that Versailles, and more wicker furniture and whimsy than Bunny Mellon's garden room, it's an elegant space to lose an afternoon. (I found a quiet corner and caught up on work here: it was a beautiful 'office' that made me wish mine looked just as lovely.)


Some of you may know that I've spent five years working on a biography of the Australian author Joan Lindsay, who wrote the international bestseller Picnic at Hanging Rock. The biography went to print a few weeks ago, and will be published on April 1, in time for the 50th anniversary of the novel.

Media for this biography has already begun, with a lovely mention in yesterday's Age and Sydney Morning Herald broadsheet newspapers, in a list of Books to Read in 2017 LINK HERE for the Sydney Morning Herald, or HERE for The Age. 

There were so many great books on this list, including a new biography on Helen Garner, so I'm thrilled and honoured to be featured.  And I'm so grateful to my publisher, Kay Scarlett (whom I knew at Murdoch Books), and my editor Julia Taylor, who took a battered old biography of a long-forgotten author and turned it into a beautifully designed and (hopefully) interesting story of a 50-year-old novel that many of us have never forgotten...

(The beautiful image above, of Anne Louise Lambert on set, was a polaroid taken by Joan Lindsay and comes from Joan Lindsay's archives. It appears in the biography along with dozens of other images from the film and Joan Lindsay's life. It was my favourite photo in the book.)

Recently, Fremantle Media announced that they are planning to remake Picnic at Hanging Rock for television in 2017, with a 6 x 60 minute drama that will, unlike the original film by Peter Weir, delve deep into the themes of gender, control, identity and burgeoning sexuality.

It will be interesting to see how Fremantle's version differs from the original, which was a worldwide success, but I applaud the company's efforts to retell this haunting mystery for a modern audience. Picnic at Hanging Rock deserves to be celebrated, as does its author Joan Lindsay, and I hope 2017 is the year in which fans, old and new, rediscover this beautiful tale of schoolgirls on a summer's day.

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